"The White Seal"
Limmershin, the Winter Wren, tells this story of events that happened at Novastoshnah (North East Point) on the Island of St. Paul. Only seals come here – thousands and thousands during the summer and it seems a perfect place for them.
Sea Catch is fifteen, huge and strong, and scarred by his battles. He loves to fight but never chases seals down the beach because it is against the Rules of the Beach. He wants room for his nursery but so do all other seals; all seals behave like men and are sometimes stupid and unaccommodating, especially the bachelors (the holluschickie).
Sea Catch’s wife Matkah is pleased that he found their same nursery spot but gently chides him for fighting again. She wonders if they would be happy at Otter Island but he says only the holluschickie go there. Sea Catch settles down for a nap but keeps an eye out for fights among the millions of seals.
One day Matkah gives birth to her baby, Kotick, and marvels that he is going to be all white. This is very rare, but the little seal baby does not know this. He grows and plays and meets babies of his own age. Little seals have to learn how to swim and aren’t happy until they do. He is two weeks old when he learns how; he also learns to avoid the Grampus, the Killer Whale who eats young seals.
It is time to head back into the deep sea. Kotick is always learning. Matkah tells him about the tingle that he will feel to know a gale is coming, to jump and fly, and to talk to other creatures.
Spring approaches and Kotick feels this inside. He and his friends, now holluschickie, head back to Novastoshnah. His friends marvel at his white coat. They all dance the Fire Dance in the evening, where their shiny coasts gleam among the breaking, crepuscular waves.
Back on shore, Kotick notices two men. One is Kerick Booterin, the chief hunter of the island, and his son Patalamon. They are there to decide which seals to drive up to the killing pens to be turned into sealskin jackets.
They notice Kotick’s white skin and are frightened; they think perhaps it is the ghost of Zaharrof, a great seal now lost.
Kotick asks his friends about the men, but they do not know anything and aren’t curious. Kotick decides to follow the men herding seals. The men notice him and hurriedly decide not to look behind them.
Kotick follows them all the way to the seal killing-ground. He is astonished to see the men clubbing seals, including some of his friends, and skinning them quickly. Sea-Lion sees the horrified Kotick and tells him this thing always happens, and unless he can find an island where no men ever go, this will continue to happen. Kotick decides he will do this, and Sea-Lion suggests he speak to Sea Vitch, the big, ugly long-tusked walrus.
Sea Vitch is old and rather rude and will not answer Kotick’s question about such an island, but after Kotick provokes him by raising a clamor, he tells him to find Sea Cow.
Kotick heads home, planning to set out for the mysterious Sea Cow in the autumn. Back home, no one seems to share his interest in the island, especially as none of them have seen the killing. His mother tells him gently that the killing will never stop and he must grow big and learn to fight - then the men will leave him alone.
Kotick does not listen and sets out on his journey. He swims miles and miles but never meets Sea Cow or finds the right island. He tries numerous places but none are right. One day, though, he meets an old seal that tells him that he is from the Lost Rookery of Masafuera and that there was a story told of a white seal who would come out of the North and lead the seal-people to a safe place. Kotick is cheered by this tale.
Back home, his mother begs him to settle down and marry, but he says he needs one more season to find the island. Out in the ocean, he finds a strange folk, and just as he is marveling at their messiness and oddness, he realizes that Sea Vitch had told him what Sea Cow was like, and this must be them. He follows them and assumes that this must be correct because if such a stupid people did not have a safe place, they’d be exterminated by now.
Kotick follows them and wearies at their slow pace until suddenly they begin to move more quickly. Finally they arrive at the most beautiful, desolate beach Kotick has ever seen. He knows intuitively men have never come here. Ships cannot approach due to the line of bars and shoals a few miles off the shore.
It takes Kotick ten days to get home but when he does, he tells people about it. Most are hesitant, but when a young seal is rude to Kotick, Kotick asks if he wins the fight will they come with him? The seal agrees, and Kotick bests him ably. He had kept in shape and never fasted, and his own father watches him and claims he is the best fighter on the beach.
The other seals agree to follow the victorious Kotick, and a week later most of the seals on the beach of Novastoshnah set out. Over time all of them come, and there they live free from the reach of man.
This is the story of Rikki-tikki-tavi, a mongoose, and how he bested the snakes in a Segowlee cantonment. He had been flushed out of his burrow and was lying prostrate on a path when a small boy found him. The father and son brought him home and let him run around. The mother was a bit hesitant about him, but the father assured her that he is a safe and very useful creature. Rikki-tikki sleeps on the boy Teddy’s pillow.
Rikki-tikki enjoys his life here and is exceedingly curious about everything. His mother told him what to do if he ever was around white men, so he goes into the garden to observe the conditions there. He meets Darzee, the tailorbird, and his wife, who are sad because one of their eggs fell out of the nest and Nag ate it.
Rikki-tikki asks who Nag is. Suddenly a large black cobra rises up out of the grass and proclaims that he is Nag, and that he has the spectacle-mark on his back. Rikki-tikki asks if he thinks it is okay to eat fledglings out of the nest and Nag asks him if it is not right that Rikki-tikki eats eggs and he eats birds.
Darzee calls out to Rikki-tikki to watch out behind him, and he jumps out of the way of Nagaina, Nag’s wife. Nagaina moves past him swiftly with a hiss of anger. Nag rises up in anger at Darzee. Rikki-tikki’s eyes grow red and hot, but the snakes disappear into the grass.
Later Rikki-tikki thinks about the seriousness of this matter. He walks with Teddy outside, and when the boy reaches down to pet him something else wriggles in the dirt and whispers of death. Rikki-tikki hears the voice and kills Karait, the tiny, dusty snakeling. He chooses not to eat him because he does not want to get full and slow. Teddy calls for his parents and they rush out. They praise Rikki-tikki for saving their son and shower him with attention.
That night, Rikki-tikki sleeps with Teddy as usual, but worries about Nag and his wife. He takes his nightly walk around the house and runs into Chuchundra, a weak, little muskrat. Chuchundra begs Rikki-tikki not to kill him and Rikki-tikki scoffs that he does not kill muskrats. Chuchundra cries fitfully and tells Rikki-tikki that something is happening, and that he ought to listen carefully. Rikki-tikki does, and hears “the dry scratch of a snake’s scales on brickwork” (98).
Rikki-tikki rushes over to Teddy’s bathroom, then his mother’s. He hears the snakes talking quietly outside. Nagaina says the mongoose will leave when all the people are dead and the garden will be theirs again; they will need all of it for their children who are about to hatch. Nag agrees to kill the people.
Rikki-tikki watches the massive snake slither into the bathroom and is unsure what to do, as he cannot have Nagaina hear him kill her husband and he cannot fight the snake on the open floor. He hears Nag hiss to his wife that he will wait here for the man to come in the morning when he will not have his stick. He coils around the bulge at the bottom of a water jar.
Rikki-tikki stays completely still and after a time he creeps noiselessly closer. Nag is asleep, and Rikki-tikki plots how to get a good hold and break his back at the first jump. He knows it must be the head and that he cannot let go or he will perish.
Nag’s head is a bit clear of the jug and Rikki-tikki makes his jump. His eyes glow red and he is whipped to and fro by the snake but he holds his teeth as hard as he can. Even if he dies he wants to be found with his teeth gripping the creature. He is growing dizzy when he hears a noise like a thunderclap. The man had heard the noise and came in with his shotgun. The man calls for his wife and shakily says the little mongoose saved them again.
In the morning, Rikki-tikki is sore but ready to take on Nagaina. He finds Darzee, but is annoyed that the bird is singing a song of triumph. He orders Darzee to tell him where Nagaina is, and the bird tells him she is on the rubbish-heap by the stables. He also says the eggs are hidden in the melon-bed. Rikki-tikki is annoyed that the bird didn't tell him this earlier, but Darzee had initially thought that because the snakes had eggs and the birds had eggs that it would be unjust.
Darzee’s wife, though, knows that these eggs will soon be cobras. She nears Nagaina and pretends to have a broken wing. She hobbles away and the snake follows her hungrily. Rikki-tikki sneaks into the litter and sees twenty-five eggs with little cobras ready to hatch any minute. He destroys them all save one.
Suddenly he hears Darzee’s wife scream that Nagaina means to kill. Rikki-tikki hurries to the veranda where he sees the family sitting stone-still in fear and the snake coiled up within striking distance of Teddy’s leg.
She sees Rikki-tikki and hisses that she is going to take care of the family first, then Rikki-tikki. He sneers that all of this is for naught, because she has no eggs anymore save one that he holds. As she turns, Rikki-tikki sees Teddy’s father grab the boy and fling him up on the table. Rikki-tikki boasts that Nag is dead and the boy is safe. He tells her she must fight him alone.
Nagaina veers up and strikes multiple times but misses Rikki-tikki. She coils like a watch spring and strikes, but Rikki-tikki evades her. He forgets the egg and she grasps it and slithers away. He rushes after her and sees her escape into her hole. Though most mongooses would not do that, he grabs her tail and follows her down.
Darzee mournfully sings that Rikki-tikki is dead, but after a moment the mongoose emerges, shakes the dust off his body, and sneezes. He announces that Nagaina is dead, and tells Darzee to tell Coppersmith, the loud bird, of the death.
All the birds and frogs in the garden sing with delight. Teddy’s parents praise him and Teddy’s father almost cries. Teddy’s mother feeds him until he is stuffed.
Rikki-tikki is proud but not too proud, and keeps the garden free from snakes until the end of his days.
“Toomai of the Elephants”
Kala Nag (“Black Snake”) is a very old and beloved elephant who serves the Indian Government. He has served in innumerable situations and never shown fear, he has watched other elephants die, and he makes sure young elephants behave.
The Indian Government has a department devoted to hunting, catching, breaking in, and sending off elephants to work. Kala Nag is an excellent fighter and trainer of these wild elephants.
His trainer, Big Toomai, is proud of his beast and says Kala Nag is afraid only of him. Little Toomai, Big Toomai’s ten-year-old son, bursts out that Kala Nag is afraid of him too. In truth, Kala Nag knows that Little Toomai is going to be his master someday and loves the boy. Little Toomai will one day ride the elephant’s neck and carry the elephant-goad.
Big Toomai chides his son about his scampering about and sighs that he does not like this hunting and camp life and prefers to get back to military training. Little Toomai is silent because he likes this wild life and jungle. He likes the curving paths and hot rains and animals. He loves watching Kala Nag with the wild elephants in the stockade-posts.
One night Little Toomai steals out of bed and runs into the training grounds (the Keddah) and helps throw up a rope that had gotten loose. Kala Nag sees him, scoops him up, and gives him back to Big Toomai. Big Toomai scolds his son for meddling and trying to get into elephant-catching on his own and that the low-paid hunters have run off to tell Peterson Sahib, “the greatest white man in the world to [Little Toomai]... who caught all the elephants for the Government of India” (112). He angrily sends his son away, saying he cannot wait to get back to his calm, leisurely life away from the hunting.
Over the next few days, the men start preparing to depart. Peterson Sahib enters the camp on his she-elephant Pudmini. He pays the men for their work and the men then line up to prepare to leave. He hears the men talking of the person who went into the Keddah and grabbed the loose rope, and learns that it was not a man but a boy.
Peterson Sahib walks over to Little Toomai and asks his name. The boy is nervous, and gestures to Kala Nag. Kala Nag tosses him up on his shoulders so the boy is level with Pudmini. Peterson Sahib laughs, tosses him money, and teases him about stealing corn. Big Toomai is embarrassed but Peterson Sahib commends the boy facing a full Keddah at such a young age. He says they are not places for young boys to play, but when he has seen the elephants dance then he will let Little Toomai go into all the Keddahs. All the men roar with laughter because this is an old joke that means never.
Later Big Toomai is irked by his son, but Little Toomai is happy that Peterson Sahib noticed him and gave him money.
Some of the drivers complain about the restlessness of the animals on their journey, wondering if they hear their wild brethren. One driver tells Little Toomai that the wild elephants will indeed dance and that Big Toomai better double-chain his creatures. Big Toomai scoffs at the man but he replies to wait and see.
That night the hill-drivers return to Peterson Sahib and the plains-drivers are left. In the evening, Little Toomai sits, ruminating on his happiness. He thumps a tune alone in front of Kala Nag. The elephants strain at their chains. He slowly falls asleep next to Kala Nag.
The night is full of soft noises that “taken together, make one big silence” (118). Little Toomai wakes and stares up at the stars. Suddenly he hears a hooting from the wild elephants and the elephants in the line stand to attention. Some of the men wake and fix their restraints tighter.
Kala Nag looks out into the jungle, lit by the moon. Big Toomai tells Little Toomai to look after him, and returns to sleep.
Some time later, Little Toomai sees Kala Nag quietly snap his string, roll out of the picket, and move to head into the jungle. Little Toomai calls to him to take him with him, and the elephant silently tosses him up to his neck and strides into the jungle.
Kala Nag walks and walks, mostly silently. Little Toomai watches the tops of the trees go by and “felt that the forest was awake below him awake and alive and crowded” (119). Kala Nag heads down into the valley, ploughing creepers and flattening the underbrush. The night mist is chilly and sometimes Little Toomai almost falls off due to a wayward branch. He begins to hear splashing and trumpeting and marvels that the elephants really are out tonight for the dance.
Finally, Kala Nag arrives at a circle of trees that grows around an irregular space at the top of a hill. More and more elephants begin to arrive, flattening the earth around them. They are loud and crashing until they arrive; then they are perfectly silent. There are all manner of creatures - wild old males, craggy females, young males, tiny babies. Even Pudmini arrives. Toomai watches them all and knows as long as he is on Kala Nag’s neck he is safe.
Kala Nag moves to the center, clucking and gurgling. He sits in the darkness making his noises. Suddenly one thunders loudly and the others join in and stamp their feet, loud as war-drums. The elephants surge and trumpet and shuffle and boom; Toomai holds on tightly for at least two hours.
Morning breaks. The clearing is larger than it was the previous evening. Little Toomai is exhausted, and tells Kala Nag to follow Pudmini back to camp. They approach the camp and Little Toomai espies Peterson Sahib, and right before fainting, tells him he saw the elephant dance.
The old, scarred hunters and Peterson Sahib are standing above Little Toomai when he wakes. He tells them what happened and where the clearing is, and then falls back asleep. Peterson Sahib and Machua Appua, the head-tracker, follow the boy’s directions and realize that he was telling the truth. They see the place where Pudmini’s irons cut a tree, and Appua marvels that a child has seen this dance.
They return to camp and Peterson Sahib orders food for a feast. Everyone honors Little Toomai, and Machua Appua holds him above his head and says he shall now be known as Toomai of the Elephants just as his grandfather was. He will become the greatest tracker of them all and all the elephants (now he faces the beasts) must acknowledge him. The elephants trumpet gloriously, and it is the cry that normally only the Viceroy of India hears. Now, though, it is for Little Toomai.
These three tales do not include Mowgli but engage with similar themes. First, all three of these tales include characters who are white: there is Peterson Sahib, the white parents and Teddy, and Kotick the white seal. Second, there are subtle but important commentaries on identity and colonialism. And third, at the narrative level, there are three heroes who are misunderstood initially but come to earn the trust of authority figures as well as their peers.
Critic Jopi Nyman is well-regarded for his work on Kipling, and offers a thoughtful analysis of the ideas of the Other, Englishness, and race and nationalism that feature strongly in Kipling’s work. His main thesis is that Kipling’s animals and Indian children factor into an imagining of English power and racial superiority. Animals like the monkeys are racialized “Others” and almost all animals are discussed in racialized and national terms.
The animal trope is a common one but it is multifaceted. The animal can “function in the manner of the stereotypical native as cunning, untrustworthy, and not-quite-human,” but it may also be trustworthy like Rikki, intelligent like Baloo, or a good leader like Akela. Ultimately, the animals in these stories are either good or bad based on national identification. The monkeys are all about self-gratification, and Shere Khan’s words “consist of anti-colonialist rhetoric combining notions of man-eating and racial difference to challenge the colonialist authority.”
Kipling attempts to depict colonial space as one of order, law, shared values and morality, and mutual respect. Behavior should be gentlemanly and is class-based. Shere Khan embodies the native Other who does not adhere to the principles of the Law and civilization, and his violations of it are dangerous because they will bring in white men and colonial authority. The Law is thus colonial law, and there are “good natives” like the wolves just like the bad native Shere Khan and the equally bad monkeys. The monkeys represent native resistance to the colonizers, and what makes them especially problematic is that they are associated with madness. The stories of the jungle “repeatedly articulate as a fear… the idea of maddening, of going native.” They often voice Kipling’s colonialist fear “of being (and becoming) like the Other,” which “shows a rupture in the alleged superiority of the colonialist’s self and also points to such issues as fear of hybridity, contamination and potential loss of racial purity.”
In “Toomai of the Elephants” the men are perturbed by their animals’ wild behavior, and Little Toomai gives voice to that when he watches the putatively civilized elephants trumpet and cavort and stamp with their wild brethren. There are alien rhythms that reverberate throughout his body and perplex and disturb him. The animals are supposed to be subordinate to their masters but here they are not; Nyman notes, “Since uncontrollable animal panic is by extension a threat to colonial social order, Little Toomai’s ability to survive the gathering of hundreds of elephants provides him with expert knowledge that can be used in further actions with animals.”
Nyman ends his analysis with a look at “The White Seal” as the most effective allegory of nation. The story is beyond the English colonial land (i.e., it’s not in India) and Kipling gets to construct a new identity. Kotick is a white seal who looks for a better place for his people, away from the Othered Russians. This is thus “an imperialist reading of the duty of the English (male) towards Britain.” The island Kotick finds is a perfectly separate place, and a place that legitimizes the colonization of other spaces. It is a place where the lower-class and less intelligent Sea Cows already live, but now a place for the seals to dominate. Kotick's whiteness is key here, and Nyman acknowledges that “this gendered representation of nationhood through an adventurous animal is taken to its logical conclusion by connecting it with wealth and prestige: the aging Kotick comes to resemble a retired English gentleman.”